Friday, December 30, 2011

Ethanol: Rye Whiskey Becoming Cult Object

From the Wall Street Journal:
F. Martin Ramin for The Wall Street Journal
Think of rye as bourbon's edgier cousin.

You order an Old Fashioned. The bartender asks, "What kind of bourbon?" You say, "Bourbon?" mildly offended, as if Pandora started playing Coldplay when you typed in "Radiohead." No, no, no. You'd prefer something with more backbone and boldness. But, you know, refined and complex, too. You ask, "Got any rye?"

If you've had this kind of exchange, congratulations, you are a fellow member of the Rye Whiskey Fan Club. I raise my glass of Van Winkle Family Reserve to you. If not, then you really must join the group—or, let's be honest, cult. Because once you become indoctrinated—it just takes a sip—leaving may require the work of a deprogrammer. Seriously. People go bananas over this stuff. What other whiskey suffers periodical shortages because cases are snatched up before they're even made? Why do recently released bottles quickly find their way onto eBay at enormously inflated prices as if they were this season's must-have Christmas toy? Why do I habitually pop into random liquor stores to see if, on the off chance, they have my favorite rare bottle collecting dust somewhere?

The explanation for the rabid following is stupid simple: Rye is damn good stuff. Think of it as bourbon's edgier cousin. Where bourbon is primarily made of corn, giving the whiskey a smooth and sweet flavor profile, rye is at least 51% of its namesake grain, lending it a spicier, fuller bodied, angular taste. If you like bourbon, but want to try something with more muscle, you need to get yourself some rye.

Although it's America's first whiskey—George Washington distilled it and bottles were as good as cash in 18th-century Pennsylvania—rye steadily fell out of popularity after Prohibition. It wasn't until the early 2000s that it became repopularized thanks mostly to craft bartenders who liked rye's robust flavors in cocktails, as well as its historical accuracy—rye was the original whiskey in classics like the Manhattan and the Sazerac.....MORE